Presidential success shows that things can change quickly in Washington.
What is the most memorable text that the gifted orator Barack Obama has spoken? The thoughts are with large, notable speeches, such as the keynote speech at the Democratic convention in 2004, with which he broke through on the national political stage. His elaborate reaction to the controversy surrounding dubious statements from pastor Jeremiah Wright, who served as his spiritual leader for many years. His performance for 200,000 swooning Berliners. The victory speech in Chicago on the evening of the elections. The speech in Cairo, which aimed at improving the troubled relations between the United States and the Islamic world.
All memorable texts. Yet, it is very well possible that, when historians later search for a passage that expresses the essence of Obama’s presidency, they will come to a much more prosaic event — for example, the press conference on December 7, 2010. Acting scene: the White House. Subject: the tax agreement Obama had just closed with the Republican opposition.
That agreement oversees, among other things, a preliminary extension of the tax reductions that predecessor George Bush had carried through — also for the highest incomes, and that while Obama as presidential candidate had solemnly promised to end the reductions. Within his own Democratic Party, a storm of criticism immediately arose over this swerve, and some qualified it as downright treason.
Did he indeed give too many concessions too easily to the Republicans, and should he not have kept his foot down, he was asked at the press conference. An elaborate, at times passionate, answer followed. The president pointed out that he, since the midterm elections of November, at which the Republicans scored significant gains and conquered the majority in the House of Representatives, has to deal with new political relations. He said to consider it his presidential mission to solve pressing problems and to not fixate on party-political quarrels. The Republicans, in turn, also made concessions: extra money for schooling and aid for the unemployed, and no permanent tax reduction.
Closing a compromise is no disgrace and no sign of weakness, according to the president. Should the latter be the case, then “we will never get anything done. People will have the satisfaction of having a purist position and no victories for the American people.” And then came his credo: “This country was founded on compromise. I couldn’t go through the front door at this country’s founding. And if we were really thinking about ideal positions, we wouldn’t have a union.” (quotes: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2010/12/07/press-conference-president)
That Obama practices politics from an essentially moderate instinct was certainly already noticeable before. But in the election campaign and also in the first months of his stay in the White House, he manifested himself primarily as the visionary who sees it as his task to lead the United States to a new era and a bright future. Hope. Change. Yes we can. With the credo he now openly professes, he positions himself much more as a pragmatic reformer, as a politician who is willing to get his hands dirty. In fact, he opens a new chapter in his presidency.
It is a chapter in which immediately two salient victories arise. Last Wednesday, Obama was able to first sign the law that dismisses gays in the military from the duty of concealing their orientation. Then, the Senate blessed the START treaty with Russia, which oversees a further reduction of strategic weapons.
This is a big boost, which shows once again that things can change quickly in American politics. The White House can take this principle to heart, knowing that it had the wind at its back in both matters. In cancelling the “don’t ask, don’t tell” provision for gays in the army, the tide of the public opinion was favorable. The START treaty could also be guided through the Senate because various Republican veterans in the area of foreign politics spoke out in favor of it.
And then there is this: The choice for of road of the compromise does not mean that confrontations should be avoided at all times. That also belongs to pragmatism, as Bill Clinton demonstrated in the ‘90s: nothing is as politically profitable as a hard-fought victory.